Week One: The Beginning For Some…The End For Others

College football got off to one of the greatest starts in the past ten years. LSU shutdown the triple option Oregon offense. Boise State shut down the team with the ugliest uniforms I’ve ever seen (Georgia), that is until I saw Maryland’s uniforms. So how does the NFL counter? Two previous Superbowl champions in the season opener. checkmate.

Parody. The Saints had a powerhouse defense when they won the Superbowl. The Packers had a powerhouse defense when they won the Superbowl. The common thread? Turnovers. Turnovers win championships.

So who’s going to win? Handlebar mustache Rogers and the Packers by 7. The Saints can’t stop the Packers passing game, save for heroic performances from Malcolm Jenkins and Roman Harper. And when the Packers get into their “let’s go 30 yards” 5 wide set? Someone’s going to get beat in man coverage. Greg Jennings and Jermichael Finley will have a field day in that formation.

What’s the weakness of the Packers defense? Mark Ingram. He will run up the middle and plow through the linebacking core of Green Bay with anger and brute strength. What about Michelle Beadle’s boy Clay Matthews? As soon as Drew Brees sees Clay Matthews get into his edge rush, Brees will check down to a draw play and there you go, a completely useless Matthews. Good luck AJ Hawk.

A rookie running back? yes. Mark Ingram is different than most running backs. Most NFL running backs look for a hole and tiptoe through it. Mark Ingram makes his holes and people hang on. Go look at the game film from last year against the SEC.

As a brief side-note, everyone raves about speed guys like Chris Johnson dominating the NFL. How many playoff games has he played in again and had a significant impact? How many top 5 defenses does he put up big numbers against? 34 yards against the Steelers last year. I rest my case.

Enough about the man with the long hair, back to teams that will make the playoffs. The Saints will be looking to prove a point at Lambeau. They will want to strike fear into the Packer faithful. they want to send a few messages:

We will beat your corners by going over the middle
We will hit your quarterback. repeatedly
We will keep your quarterback off the field by running the ball

Gregg Williams has been waiting a very long time to unleash the dogs of hell. Do not take that for granted. a few strip sacks and this game will swing into the Saints favor.
There’s a strange method I’ve been using to get a better glimpse at teams I watch in the NFL. I did this for the preseason, and i will probably use it in the regular season as well. I look at the current roster of a team and write down the age, college, round taken, and number of Pro Bowls a player has for each team. I also write down the relevant information of the 2011 rookies (age, college, round taken)

Example:

Charles Woodson – 34 years old/Michigan/1st rd/7 Pro Bowls

It helps to get an overall view of a team as per how many first round draft picks they keep, the production of guys like Tramon williams, who was undrafted yet made it to a Pro Bowl, or Donald Driver who was a 7th round pick that made 4 Pro Bowls. Is the Pro Bowl a real litmus test? Yes and No.

One thing you notice about the Packers is that they took a tight end in the 5th round and another in the 7th. They also took a wide receiver in the second round. If i were to make predictions, it would be that Randall Cobb is slated to take over Donald Driver’s spot next year.

Two tight ends may in fact mean that the packers plan to run a little more with two tight end sets, or are simply looking to get some pressure off their receivers.

So what do the Saints look to do with their draft? Run the ball and get after the quarterback. Shaun rogers will show Cameron Jordan how to hit in the NFL. The front 4 of New Orleans will look to wipe the smirk off Aaron Rodgers face. They made Brett Favre hurt so good. The secondary is the strength of the Saints, so look for them to run alot of nickel and dime packages, disguising a few 3 down coverages in an attempt to get Rodgers out of sync. Monday Night Football on a Thursday. Welcome to Interzone.

New York Jets: Pass Rush Needs To Shine Sunday Night

Rex Ryan prides himself on his defense, in particular he prides himself on the ability to confuse and get after the quarterback. On Sunday night, he will be facing a quarterback who missed the majority of last season with an injury and an offensive line starting two rookies and a center with one career NFL start.

If Ryan wants to stop hearing questions about his pass rush. If Calvin Pace wants to stop hearing about when he will finally break through and put up a double digit sack season. If Jamaal Westerman wants to answer the skepticism about him being the team’s designated pass rusher…Sunday is a hell of an opportunity to make a statement.

There is no excuse for the Jets to not constantly be in the face on Tony Romo and knocking him to the ground. Despite being a playmaker, Romo is prone to making a handful of poor decisions a game that can result in turnovers. The pass rush should be able to both sack him and force a few passes that should be intercepted.

The top two pass rushers on the team are supposed to be Pace and Westerman. This is the first time in two years Pace will be on the field week one and he can get a jump on a breakout season by turning in a big performance Sunday night. Westerman has proven nothing as a defensive player at this level and needs to make a few plays to demonstrate he has the ability to be a pass rush specialist on this defense. Ryan will also be sending his defensive backs at the quarterback as usual, so players like Kyle Wilson, Donald Strickland, and Eric Smith need to take advantage of their blitzes.

A great defense takes advantage of an offensive line with such a lack of experience. Let’s see if the Jets will take a first step towards being that great defense this year.

Third Year Jets Sanchez And Greene Must Lead The Way


The Jets offensive line houses two All-Pros in D’Brickshaw Ferguson and Nick Mangold. The new wide receiving group owns two players in Santonio Holmes and Plaxico Burress, who have last minute Super Bowl winning grabs on their resume. Yet it is third year QB Mark Sanchez and RB Shonn Greene who must lead the way for the Jets offense, if it hopes to improve upon the inconsistent behavior that it has displayed throughout the Rex Ryan era.

The Sanchez debate over his first two seasons ranges from the notion that he is a clutch late game winner, to the concept that Sanchez is not, and never will be, an elite quarterback. Two trips to the AFC title game are not enough for many including Sanchez, who along with Rex Ryan, have publicly stated a desire to see the QB’s completion percentage grow to 60 percent, up from from a 54 percent career average.

Sanchez has 29 career touchdowns with 33 interceptions but threw more TD’s (17) than picks (13) in 2010. That ratio must also improve significantly in order for Sanchez to make his way into the upper echelon of NFL signal callers.

Perhaps the addition of a red zone threat, the newly acquired WR Plaxico Burress will help, along with having WR Santonio Holmes from the onset (Holmes missed four games to start 2010 due to violating the NFL drug policy) will give Sanchez the downfield potential from week one as well. Many also believe TE Dustin Keller will break out in 2011. This courtesy of the arrival of former Colts offensive guru, the tight end centric offensive assistant Tom Moore.

In the end, though, the responsibility falls not on those who get the ball. It falls on the shoulders of Sanchez. A leader whose job it is to make quality decisions in where he chooses to deliver his throws. Sanchez in year three, has to solidify his emotional demeanor too. This in order to minimize the mental ups and downs he’s had a tendency to display in games. Those waves occurring mostly when moving the chains does not come easily. It is there that panic has lead Sanchez in the past, into high risk throws ending up as turnovers.

Maligned offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer has been criticized for not trusting his quarterback since his arrival as the fifth overall pick during the 2009 NFL draft. That trust must go both ways though. Sanchez has to prove to Schotty and the sidelines that being given a greater responsibility will pay off in more points, not more mistakes.

Greene has been a playoff beast for the Jets during their back to back late January runs. His regular season totals of 1,306 yards and a 4.5 yards per carry average are numbers however, that a feature back would hope to display over one season, not in two years combined. Greene needs to enforce his will on opponents earlier in the game, and show that he is the feature back, earlier in the season. In 2010, his hesitant nature and failure to run with confidence left the Jets in the position of having to hand over the tempo setting reigns to veteran LaDainian Tomlinson.

LT did a solid job in a role that was expanded for him, in a backfield that opted to let the hammering Thomas Jones go in favor of Greene as the future. A future that didn’t happen for the former Iowa Hawkeye in 2010.

It must become a reality for Greene and the Jets in 2011. Otherwise Gang Green will again have to turn to LT, a future Hall of Famer who in the twilight of an outstanding career, appears to be a step slower. Running backs Joe McKnight and rookie Bilal Powell will seek to contribute to the ground game regardless of the effect that Greene has, but remain unproven.

There is no denying the fact that the Jets have to pick it up offensively in 2011. Their ability to do so, despite all of the talent the Jets currently have on offense, starts with Mark Sanchez and Shonn Greene.

Time For Jets To Air It Out On Sunday

I am normally a major advocate of the New York Jets not drifting too far away from their “Ground and Pound” approach. However, in this week’s regular season opener it is time for the Jets to spread the field and attack a suspect Dallas Cowboys secondary with their array of weapons in the passing game.

Dallas starting corner Terrence Newman is out with a groin injury. The other starter, Michael Jenkins, will likely play but has missed a ton of time this pre-season and is still banged up with a shoulder injury, which means the Jets should see plenty of Orlando Scandrick, Alan Ball, and Bryan McCann at corner. Beyond that, the Cowboys are starting Abram Elam and Gerald Sensabaugh at safety. Time to take advantage of that Mark Sanchez.

There is no way Dallas should be able to handle Santonio Holmes, Plaxico Burress, Derrick Mason, Dustin Keller, and LaDainian Tomlinson as a receiver out of the backfield. The Jets must be aggressive early and often, while looking to take advantage of any one on one match-ups. Holmes, Burress, or Mason singled up Jenkins, Ball, or McCann is a major advantage to the Jets. Keller singled up on Elam or Sensabaugh is a major advantage to the Jets. Schottenheimer needs to call the plays and Sanchez needs to put the ball up to take advantage of those mismatches.

I am normally not a huge advocate of Sanchez throwing 25 or more times in a game. Yet, it is year three now for him now. The match-ups will be there. Put the ball up and let’s see a 21/30, 275 yard, 2 touchdown performance. The training wheels are off.

TOJ Week 1 Roundtable: Jets/Cowboys Key Match-Up

Joe Caporoso: I am going with Jason Witten versus the Jets safeties. The Jets were awful at defending the tight end last year and Witten has the ability to consistently hurt them if he is left in single coverage with the substantially smaller/inconsistent in pass coverage Jim Leonhard or Eric Smith. I wouldn’t be shocked if Darrelle Revis saw a few reps on Witten and the Jets also threw plenty of double teams at him.

Justin Fritze: Dez Bryant against Antonio Cromartie. This is the sort of battle of egos you pay big money to see. Cromartie has a lot to prove against the second year “star” 1st round draft choice. If Bryant takes it to the house against Cromartie, the third option of Kyle Wilson makes me shudder. Cromartie needs to do his best Revis impersonation and bump and run Bryant until the Jets can get a few sacks, at which point it will be check down time for Romo, seeing as how he wants to stay upright for longer than one week. I think Cromartie will keep him out of the end zone, but a few big plays could spell trouble for the island cornerback theory of Rex Ryan.

TJ Rosenthal: Terence Newman according to Rotoworld has been ruled out. The Cowboys secondary has struggled with him this preseason. The Jets new wide receiving corps has not yet gotten into gear either. Holmes however, is Mark Sanchez’s favorite target. What a great way it could be for the Jets to begin to open up the air attack by picking on backup Orlando Scandrick and a banged up starting CB in Mike Jenkins, and whoever else tries to help out Rob Ryan’s unit.

Rob Celletti: The Cowboys’ secondary looks ripe for the picking, but that depends on one thing: keeping Mark Sanchez’s jersey clean.  That’s why Sunday’s key matchup has to be D’Brickashaw Ferguson and the rest of the Jets’ line vs. DeMarcus Ware.  Not that it needs further explanation, but Ware is an elite pass-rusher, and if he’s allowed to get in Sanchez’s face consistently, it could be a long day for the offense.

Chris Celletti: I’m really interested to see Antonio Cromartie against Dez Bryant/Miles Austin. Whoever the Jets put Darelle Revis on will be taken out of the game, andd expect Tony Romo to look at Cromartie’s side of the field. Bryant and Austin are both explosive playmakers, and it will be imperative that Cromartie does a good job on whoever he is matched up against to keep the Cowboys’ offense at bay.

Can Jets Put Two Tight End Set To Use?

Many Jets fans had immediate dreams of a two tight end set the minute that Tom Moore, the former Colts offensive guru arrived in Florham Park as the newest member of the Jets staff. However, even with the emergence of Jeff Cumberland this summer with the second unit, the Jets never unveiled what many thought might be a new look for the playbook. Priorities made it such that the Jets in limited time had to work the new receiving corps out first. Perhaps the two tight end set is next in line. Even kept under wraps on purpose for the time being.

The Jets would have loved by this time to have their new wide receiving corps that includes Plaxico Burress, Derrick Mason, and rookie Jeremy Kerley healthy and firing on all cylinders, which hasn’t happened yet. Former Rams WR Mardy Gilyard has now been added to this group. One that will go into week one unproven.

Both Burress and Mason missed time due to minor injuries and the offensive line started some second string players during the time that Mark Sanchez took first half snaps. Therefore the playbook was limited to safer throws that kept Sanchez safe as possible.

With the wideouts being the passing game’s top priority it is understandable that the club hasn’t gone to the next phase of development in adding 6’4 Cumberland to downfield routes with Keller yet. That’s doesn’t mean it won’t happen.

Should they roll out a formation that does include both Cumberland and Dustin Keller, one that the Patriots took to another level in 2010, it will be done without having attempted it during any of the four summer tune ups.

If and when it the duo do emerge out of the huddle together, there will also be no guaranteed success that the duo of Cumberland and Keller will match the effectiveness that Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski displayed up in Foxboro.

With Moore’s tutelage and track record however, this type of addition to the air attack could provide Sanchez the ability to find a high percentage rythym with big targets at close range. In places on the field that don’t include the flat. Where moves have to be made by those with the ball, just to cross the line of scrimmage.

Many who follow the Jets still wonder if this scenario will unfold in 2011, while dreaming about the potential upside it could bring the Jets offense.

Preliminary Thoughts: Jets vs. Dallas

The New York Jets will open their 2011 regular schedule season this Sunday night against the Dallas Cowboys. It will be an emotional night as the game falls on the ten year anniversary of September 11th, and the team plans to honor the event appropriately.

There is no shortage of subplots surrounding the match-up. The Ryan brothers will be facing off, as Rex’s brother, Rob is now the defensive coordinator for the Cowboys. Their father is delaying cancer surgery to watch the game. Outside of the Ryans, both rosters feature a healthy collection of big name players who provide plenty of star power to this game. Most notably, a high octane Dallas offense will face off against the Jets defense, which projects to be one of the league’s top units.

My initial impression is that I like this match-up for the Jets. There is going to be tremendous energy in the building and I think this is a game for them to set the tempo this year that they will be a difficult team to beat at home. The Cowboys feature plenty of names but were a 6-10 team last year and are an inferior football team to the Jets.

On offense, the Jets should be able to both run the football and attack down the field. The Cowboys starting corners, Terrence Newman and Michael Jenkins are both banged up. Newman has been out since August 4th with a groin injury. Jenkins has been dealing with a shoulder issue the past month. It remains to be seen if either will play, which could lead to substantial time for Orlando Scandrick and Bryan McCann. Beyond that, their safety duo of Abram Elam and Gerald Sensabaugh are vulnerable in coverage, which could lead to a big day for Dustin Keller. It is imperative that Brian Schottenheimer and Mark Sanchez are aggressive early and often. This is the type of game Sanchez could throw for 250 yards or more. DeMarcus Ware is always a handful in the pass rush but the Jets have D’Brickashaw Ferguson on one side and will likely provide consistent help to Wayne Hunter if Ware is matched up on him.

On defense, Dallas has a very legit top three pass catching options in Miles Austin, Dez Bryant, and Jason Witten. I would expect Darrelle Revis to see time on all three of them, but primarily on Austin. The Jets would be wise to roll safety help to Antonio Cromartie in the situations that he is singled up with Bryant. Witten is exactly the type of tight end who gave the Jets problems last year and it will be interesting to see if they have improved in the area of defending the tight end. Felix Jones is a home run threat at running back, so the Jets must keep contain and monitor him as a pass catching option out of the backfield.

Tony Romo is returning from injury after missing the bulk of last season and I am sure Rex Ryan will be throwing the kitchen sink of blitzes at him. While he has the ability to make plays outside of the pocket, the Jets should be able to force him into a few mistakes as he shakes off the rust.

The Jets are expecting to have all their starters and key reserves available for this game.